Downtown Los Angeles

Thursday, April 13, 2017: Los Angeles, California

Downtown Los Angeles has not the glamour of Hollywood, the pomp of Beverly Hills and Malibu, or the edge of Venice, but it has your big city skyscrapers and what feels to a humble Midwesterner like a hint of California cool. I spent a day and a night here en route to Coachella in 2017, sun(bur)ning myself on a hotel deck, riding a slide 1000 feet above the ground, and of course, bookshopping.


Getting There and Getting Around
  • LAX: This airport feels slightly trendier than other American airports – cool coffeeshops and bookstores, etc. – but most is a normal airport
  • Uber: Uber is relatively affordable in LA, a metro region notoriously short on public transit. There are train and bus systems, but they seem to service on parts of the city and its surroundings
  • Financial District: Newer than the Spring Street Financial District, older than Century City, this area is businessy and accordingly has the major hotel chains, but isn’t as quiet as, say, Chicago’s Loop at night. A few cool restaurants, bars, and shops are mixed in with the fuddy-duddies
  • Sheraton Grand Los Angeles: A very nice hotel downtown, it has a posh lobby and the most confusing elevator system with which I’ve ever interacted. To get to a restricted floor (i.e. ones with guest rooms) you swipe your key on a little terminal and select the floor number. The screen then tells you which of the elevators will bring you to your destination. Someone could be standing right next to you and be pointed to a different elevator. You then enter your designated elevator, the doors shut, and you frantically spin and slap the walls looking for buttons to enter your floor. Eventually, as you feel the car start rising, you realize the elevator already knows where to take you. No smearing your hand across every button in a full car pranks for this elevator. It may be the future of its kind. The Sheraton, in addition to futuristic internal transit, has a gorgeous deck on the third floor with tables (and some outlets!) around the perimeter, wifi, outdoor couches in the middle ringing a pool (the displaying-and-maybe-tossing in coins, not the swimming, kind), and ample sunshine. I spent hours here working on my laptop and getting a sunburn in very fixed regions of my arms and ankles
  • Klatch Coffee: Klatch is a small Southern California chain with six locations (one in Rancho Cucamonga, one is in Korea, not Southern California!); I visited the airport branch. It’s one of the LAX spots that has a slightly-cooler-than-an-airport vibe, with shared seating at long, picnic-style tables and good coffee. Along with my cup, I had a bran muffin in hour of my old neighbor Tony, whose favorite food, according to legend, was bran. Just bran
  • Book Soup: While the real location is on the Sunset Strip in WeHo, Book Soup has an outpost in LAX. It is the second-best airport bookstore I’ve entered in my lifetime: Its selection is smaller than WHSmith’s London Book Company at Gatwick (Steimatzky’s in Tel Aviv is no slouch, either), but Book Soup prominently displays good literature, rather than airport rags, in the front of the store, complete with hand-written staff recommendations
  • Caravan: Tucked amidst glass-and-metal towers and ramen and gourmet taco shops, this rare and used book store packs a wealth of choices into its small space. Caravan came to me while I was on a British history kick, and its old, beautifully bound British history book section did not disappoint. The proprietor, Leonard, is friendly but unobtrusive, giving his customers space to explore. He is the second generation of family owners of this historic establishment
  • The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck: You don’t need to travel to Los Angeles to find one of these stamped-with-famous-chef’s-name pseudo-gourmet restaurants. I stood in line for ten minutes to buy an orange, which was small
  • Some place serving wraps: For lunch, I ate a beef wrap from some place near the hotel. It was tasty, the food was packaged in Bottle Box containers, but I don’t remember the name
  • Sprinkles: A fancy cupcake place downtown. I tried a bit of two apparent favorites – the salty caramel, which has very creamy cream cheese icing, and the triple cinnamon, which I liked more than I expected and was well-executed if unusual – and a mini red velvet
  •  Danny’s Tacos: This truck was parked off 7th on a quiet Thursday night. There were a couple of more upscale Mexican joints nearby (along with a Chipotle), but eating from ordering from a food truck seemed more Southern California, a way of bringing the beach downtown. The food was delicious, and I encountered a couple who stopped here for dinner while walking their dog, which suggested to me that, in an area full of visiting businesspeople and tourists, Danny’s serves the locals
Tourist Attractions
  • OUE Skyspace at US Bank Tower: This two-floor observation deck sits atop the recently displaced tallest building west of the Mississippi. It has spectacular views (see featured photo, above) – from this height Los Angeles looks especially endless and chaotic, unlike the neatly illuminated Midwestern grids on view from Chicago’s Willis Tower – that visitors can observe from large windows or from very pleasant outdoor areas with couches. The Skyspace features some interactive stuff, the obligatory gift shop and photo counter, and an all-glass slide that, incredibly, goes OUTSIDE the building’s facade from one floor to the other. It’s like stepping onto the Willis Tower’s Skydeck and then riding it down a floor. I was underwhelmed: You have to sit on a little carpet while riding, so you can’t look down, and they take a picture of you when you are about halfway through so that they can try to sell it to you afterwards, which means that a good portion of your ~two-second ride you are blinded by a flash, so at night you can’t look right, left, forward, or up in addition to down, which is blocked by your carpet. I would spring the twenty-or-so dollars to access the spectacular views at the Skyspace and pass on the addition eight for the slide, unless you are a like me and have an incessant and irritating need to experience everything even if it might be terrible


The Los Angeles Central Library, designed with a gorgeous mix of modernity and ancient Egyptian influence
2017-05-06 12_20_29-Video - Google Photos
A brief moment of darkness; a ride too short

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